The Good, The Bad and The Better

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/4, 1/500 sec, ISO250)

Like cameras lenses are always a very controversial topic among photographers. So here we go: Fuji XF 18-55 OIS vs XF 16-55 WR. Which is the better lens and why?

First the basics:

Of course it is the photographer not the lens who takes the picture. An excellent photographer will make better images with a cheap camera plus kit lens than a less talented person with a pro-camera/lens-combo. It’s the same with bicycles. A pro rider on an old rusty bicycle will ride faster than the average guy on the newest and best carbon bike. But that logic doesn’t mean that you have to be a pro-rider to enjoy a good race bike as well as you don’t have to be a pro-photographer to enjoy better gear.

The XF 18-55/2.8-4 OIS came out first. It was predominately bought in a kit together with the camera so it is safe to assume that the vast majority of Fuji shooters at one point owned or still owns this lens. It is compact and light, it has image stabilization, it offers a slightly faster aperture than most kit lenses and it is also slightly better built than the usual kit lens. It looks like the perfect lens.

The XF 16-55/2.8 WR came out later and from the start there was a lot of discussion because the lack of image stabilisation but most of all because of its size and its weight. Only a one stop faster on the long end, no OIS, much bigger and heavier and much more expensive. It’s the perfect lens – to dislike!

Well, not so fast!

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/4, 1/200 sec, ISO320)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (55mm, f/2.8, 1/320 sec, ISO640)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (32.1mm, f/9, 1/125 sec, ISO320)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (20mm, f/8, 1/80 sec, ISO400)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (24.9mm, f/8, 1/400 sec, ISO200)

Like many others I first got the kit lens and I liked it. I took it on a trip to the USA and I was quite happy with its image quality. Sure my primes were better but that should always be the case. When I took it on one of my many trips to South East Asia I was less thrilled though. Close to the equator the sun is brutal and the light outside the golden hour is tricky. I was underwhelmed with the results.

Later in the year I met a friend who happened to own the XF 16-55/2.8 WR. Naturally on a photo walk we changed lenses. I think he was eager to try my 23/1.4 or the 35/1.4. Anyway I shot with his XF 16-55/2.8 WR and when I downloaded the images it was clear to me that I will replace the kit lens with the 16-55. It was not even close. I never made any  “test”-shots of my bookshelf or a brick wall because I don’t shoot bookshelves or brick walls regularly. I took normal pictures and those normal pictures simply looked better. I expected a slightly better subject isolation and better Bokeh but there was more. The images had better micro contrast and colours, they simply looked crisper. I think it is because of the better coating of the lens elements. 

Whatever it is and whatever it is called: pop, magic, … I don’t care. It is far from subtle and the difference only gets bigger in challenging light. I’m not a professional gear tester so I can’t measure a lens but I have eyes. It’s the same with a stereo system. You don’t need fancy equipment to measure which one is better. All you need to do is to listen to it and to trust your ears.

This is not a review because I think we should not trust reviews. Would you purchase a new car based on a review? I wouldn’t. I might read some reviews to narrow down the options but I would always take a long ride before I decide on a new car.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (24.2mm, f/9, 1/480 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/8, 1/220 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23.4mm, f/8, 1/200 sec, ISO500)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/9, 1/300 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (21.3mm, f/8, 1/950 sec, ISO250)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (55mm, f/2.8, 1/280 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (45.5mm, f/5.6, 1/1400 sec, ISO250)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (33.2mm, f/8, 1/640 sec, ISO250)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/8, 1/220 sec, ISO200)

I already stated that this is not a review. There are no pictures of the lenses because I don’t own the 18-55 anymore and there are also no images taken with the 18-55 even though I have some very nice pictures that I took with it. But they would be meaningless because: different scene, different light. I could choose to post some bad ones but why should I do that?

I want to offer a piece of logic instead: A lot of us moved from larger cameras to Fuji because we wanted something small and light. We started with the kit lens, which is small and light, but many who have tested the XF 16-55/2.8 WR decided that the difference that this lens makes is big enough to compromise on the single most important feature of the Fuji X system: its compactness. I wouldn’t have done this for a subtle difference that is hard to detect and I think that is true for most of us.

If something small and light is as good as something bigger and heavier photographers especially travel photographers go for the lighter option. That’s why mirror less cameras have become so popular. So if we are willing to compromise on weight and size and to some extend on usability (no OIS) there has to be a big prize. And the big prize here is image quality. 

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/6.4, 1/800 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (29.2mm, f/2.8, 1/125 sec, ISO1000)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (55mm, f/8, 1/340 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-H1 (16mm, f/4, 1/15 sec, ISO640)
FUJIFILM X-H1 (25.7mm, f/4, 1/30 sec, ISO1000)
FUJIFILM X-H1 (19.4mm, f/4, 1/30 sec, ISO1000)
FUJIFILM X-H1 (28.3mm, f/6.4, 1/220 sec, ISO200)

It’s not a review but there should be more facts. How about a little piece from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

  • What has Fuji given us for all that additional money?
  • Better built quality. 
  • What?
  • Better built quality.
  • Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that’s true. Yeah.
  • A constant aperture. 
  • Oh yeah, remember how it was to shoot with a variable aperture zoom!
  • Yeah. All right. I grant you the better built and the constant aperture are the two things Fuji has done.
  • And WR. 
  • Well, yeah. Obviously WR. I mean WR goes without saying, doesn’t it. But apart from the better built, the constant aperture and WR
  • Faster AF
  • a marked aperture ring
  • better coating
  • and it’s safe now to shoot in challenging light
  • yeah they certainly know how to coat a lens to make it flare resistant. Let’s face it. They are the only ones who could do it for such a lens.
  • All right. But apart from the better built, the constant aperture, WR, faster AF, a marked aperture ring and better coating what has Fuji done for us?
  • They gave us 16mm.
  • Oh. 16mm? Shut up!

I guess that sums it up perfectly well.

FUJIFILM X-H1 (55mm, f/4, 1/5800 sec, ISO800)
FUJIFILM X-H1 (55mm, f/3.6, 1/2200 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-H1 (16mm, f/5.6, 1/900 sec, ISO200)

Maybe I should explain the title which obviously refers to an Italo Western but also helps to describe the subject on hand.

The XF 18-55 OIS is a good lens and if purchased together with a camera it is good value. The bad news is that it is still just a kit lens despite the high price Fuji asks for it if bought separately. For me its focal range is its biggest problem. 18mm is just not wide enough and that’s why I would prefer the cheaper XC lenses just to get more wide angle. Built quality is solid but nothing special and the lens coating is inferior to Fujis better lenses. Especially for zoom lenses the quality of the those lenses and their coating is very important simply because there are so many lenses in a zoom lens.

The XF 16-55/2.8 WR is clearly the better lens in every regard. It makes a real world difference in your ever day images even if you shoot at medium apertures. And that difference will only get bigger in more challenging light.

But there is only one who can decide if those differences are big enough or not: you! Just make sure that you rely on your own eyes and don’t get fooled to believe “reviews” or MTF charts that tell you that there is only a minor difference in the output of those lenses.


All images in this blog post are from two great vacations in the USA. One in the South West in 2018 and the other one in 2019 in the North East.

EXIF data is under the shots. Most are taken at medium apertures but some are taken at the maximum aperture. The point is: It doesn’t really matter with this lens. I can freely choose the aperture that works best for the subject without sacrificing image quality.

FUJIFILM X-H1 (16mm, f/2.8, 1/15 sec, ISO640)
FUJIFILM X-H1 (16mm, f/4, 1/60 sec, ISO400)